JOHANNESBURG Paybox M-Net has scored a hit with its first locally commissioned sitcom, “The Coconuts,” about a white family that turns black overnight.
The politically incorrect skein drew approximately 350,000 viewers in its first two outings starting Jan. 9, outperforming its predecessor, the ABC drama “Day Break,” to become one of M-Net’s top five shows.
The word “coconut” has become an insulting slang in post-apartheid South Africa with the rise of a black middle- class, many of whom moved to formerly white suburbs and sent their children to previously whites-only schools. Detractors claim they are losing their African culture — like a coconut, dark on the outside but white inside.
Created by TV producer-director Andrew Timm, “The Coconuts” focuses on a white family, the Greenes, whose lives are turned upside down during a camping holiday when, after ignoring an old man’s warnings not to park their caravan on his ancestors’ burial grounds, they wake up to discover they have turned black.
At the same time, the family’s domestic servant has become white.
The Greenes return home to start a new life as the Mbulis, and to make life even more interesting, they have a middle- class black family living next door.
Timm says “The Coconuts” is irreverent, poking fun at real South Africans, their relationships, prejudices and stereotypes.
The idea came to him after he heard many of his black friends complain about how much they hated being called coconuts, and then he started thinking, “What if they really were white on the inside?”
For Philicity Reeken (“Jozi H”), who plays the white housewife who turns black, the situation in the sitcom is not entirely unfamiliar.
“I am a black-skinned girl who does not speak a single African language,” she says. “My mom is mixed-race, my dad is Zimbabwean and I used to live during the week with a white couple in a Johannesburg suburb.”
The show also features Luthuli Dlamini (“Scandal”) and Shaeleen Tobin (“Stander”), and the team of writers includes comedians David Kau and Kagiso Lediga (“Bunny Chow”).